A Mining Disaster

A West Virginia mining disaster, from the Los Angeles Times:

Just before midnight, the roar of jubilant shouts from rescue crews near the mine entrance signaled that searchers proceeding cautiously 260 feet below ground had found all the remaining miners.

"They're alive! They're alive!" family members whooped. Ignoring a pelting rain, they dashed toward Sago Baptist Church, where families had congregated for 41 agonizing hours since the miners were trapped.

While the church bell pealed, relatives hugged and shook their heads in amazement. Lisa Ferris, a resident whose uncle was one of those originally said to be alive, raced to the church door in her bare feet. Sirens wailed as five Upshur County ambulances converged on the mine site.

Eddie Hamner, waiting grimly near the church for news about his missing cousin, Junior Hamner, bolted upright when the bell sounded. "I was just standing here when the bell started ringing and you knew something good was happening," Hamner said. "You just have to have faith in God — and in the rescue."

A few minutes after word came of the rescue, the throng around the mine, several hundred strong, broke into a chorus of the hymn "How Great Thou Art" in the chilly night air. ...

Three hours later, it all goes south. The news was wrong. Not 12 are alive. 12 are dead. Some sort of communications breakdown down in the mine.

From the AP:

"It's sorrow beyond belief," International Coal Group Chief Executive Officer Ben Hatfield said during a news conference. ... Hatfield told the families that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners.

"There was no apology. There was no nothing. It was immediately out the door," said Nick Helms, son of miner Terry Helms.

Chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned along the road near the church because police were concerned about violence. A Red Cross volunteer, Tamila Swiger, told CNN people were breaking down and suffering panic attacks.

Company officials waited to correct the information until they knew more about the rescue, Hatfield said.

"Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or 1 (who were alive)," Hatfield said.

What a fiasco, writes the blogger at Random Thoughts 101. "I can’t imagine the feelings of those family members and friends who first thought an actual miracle had occurred, only to later find out it was all untrue."

The timing was unfortunate for most of the country's newspapers. Ny_nd

A sample of front pages here. Our neighbor Early Word provides a timeline of what was known. The Columbia Journalism Review, in a piece headlined, "How the Press Got the Sago Story Wrong," names names.

It begins:

Maybe the reporters on the ground in West Virginia were just plain tired. Or maybe they themselves were swept up in the euphoria and wanted to believe. Otherwise, it's hard to explain how the erroneous news of the survival and rescue of 12 of the 13 miners caught underneath the ground in Sago, West Virginia made it to the front pages of our nation's papers this morning.

A close reading of the articles themselves tells the tale of how journalists bungled the story: In most, there are no sources at all for the information; in some, the sources are the rumors spread by frantic family members. Those sorts of sources are hardly a solid basis for headlines screaming, "They're Alive!"

The Brick, N. J. blogger who goes by Gigglechick had fallen asleep watching CNN. When she drifted off, all was well. Forty minutes later, for some reason, she awoke:

watching anderson cooper and he's chatting with sanjjay gupta about hypothermia or something - just filler chatter - then all of a sudden some woman and her kids come running down saying that the mining company were "liars" and that only one miner has survived.


cooper was like "what?!" and stunned... i, being all groggy from waking up, thought it was just a hallucination or a dream that i was dealing with.

but no.

and in watching the press conference, the president of the mining company - ben hatfield - read the statement and answered questions - part of me felt bad for him, but they knew that the news at 11:45 last night was not confirmed. and the reason he gave for not telling the families - or the media, for that matter - that the news was unconfirmed.... well, he said that the families were already on an emotional rollercoaster and didn't want to dampen their euphoria.

come on.

i would rather have my "euphoria dampened" rather than being led on for 3 bloody hours thinking that all was well and my family was still in tact.

The news made Dem Bloggers swing at the media. In a post titled, "Now Do You Understand Why We Don't Trust Them," DB wrote:

The other night Anderson Cooper said this while interviewing Gov. Manchin about the trapped coal miners:

Our pledge over the next two hours is not to be traffic and rumor. We're not going down the road of speculation. We're only looking for facts. Because God knows, there are a lot of people who have a personal involvement watching right now. We don't want to give them any misleading information.

Okay it sounds reasonable right? They won't jump to conclusions and do something cruel like report that 12 of the 13 miners are alive and then retract the story. Nope there is no misleading information there... move along folks nothing to see here...

PSOTD, meanwhile, calls for a public investigation into how CNN and MSNBC performed:

Both news organizations spent most of their on-air resources the past few days covering the mine disaster, yet were unable to show any more news coverage maturity than a shopping mall gossip when the rumor broke that the miners had survived. I can't even imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a family member or friend of a miner, to have what you believe is a legitimate news organization trumpeting the survival of almost all the miners, just to have that news proven absolutely false within hours.

"So how long do we continue to allow corporations to use human beings as cheap, disposable labor?" asks Suburban Guerrilla. She links Jordan Barab, who spent 16 years running AFSCME's health-and-safety program. Barab, who writes the Confined Space blog, reports on the mine's record:

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Sago Mine had been cited over 200 times in the past year. Because the Mine Safety and Health Act require every mine to be inspected four times a year, numerous citations are not uncommon. The troubling thing is that both citations and injuries have gone up significantly since last year. The mine's injury rate is three times the industry average and it has been plagued by a dozen roof falls in the last half of last year.

Posted 01/04/2006 10:04:49 AM

> "So how long do we continue to allow corporations to use human beings as cheap, disposable labor?" asks Suburban Guerrilla. As long as we demand to buy goods at prices that force capital to use foreign labor. These people don't live in sophisticated, enlightened, liberal, educated Lafeyette Hills. Where they live you have two choices when you graduate from high school - Walmart for $8/hour and no benefits or the mines for $20/hour and some benefits. And a good man must support his family so the wife and children work at Walmart and the good man goes down into the mine. And what little they have - they have becuase they can afford to shop at Walmart. Our standard of living is going down. Capitalism does that. Maybe National Socialism is the way - keep your eye on Venezuela and maybe soon Bolivia.

Citizen Mom
Posted 01/04/2006 11:17:44 AM

I was counting the seconds until it became "the media's fault." The mining company knew during those three hours that erroneous information was circulating, yet they allowed it to continue. The mining company CEO said HE knew within 20 minutes that the 12 were dead. So sad, on so many levels.

Posted 01/04/2006 11:22:56 AM

Me too. Since you are using quotes can you tell me where you got the "the media's fault" quote from? I did see Drudge note that the NYT on-line was still celebrating the resuce of all the miners 14 hours after their death was announced. But who could possibly blame the accident on the media?

Citizen Mom
Posted 01/04/2006 12:03:18 PM

Actually, Puck, I wasn't using "the media's fault" in a direct quote sense -- woulda included attribution if I had. My journalistic skillz aren't THAT rusty -- yet. Hahahaha... When I come across the appropriate quotes, I'll send them your way. And to be most specific, the "it" to which I was referring wasn't the accident itself but the heartbreaking miscommunication.

Posted 01/04/2006 01:14:22 PM

thanks - that's logical. When there's a mining accident - blame the mining company. When a bad drug is sold - blame the drug company. When a train derails blame the railroad. When erroneous news is reported - blame the messenger? Or not. We'll have to wait and see which way the spin takes us.

Posted 01/04/2006 02:21:10 PM

Here's the thing. This isn't just the mine companies fault. Where did the news of the rescue originate? Who ran with it as gospel despite the confusion and lack of adequate confirmation? I think the media has SOME blame but should not be held as the only blame game. What cheeses me off is how the media pontificated this morning (CNN, FOX, NBC) and was going head over heels after the mine. Yes, the mine company has fault in this but in the business to report news first, fast, and before anyone else, the ability to factcheck and confirm news BEFOREhand has to measured. There's a lot of blame to go around -- and the media gets some of it for running with something that came out of a period of confusion. A lot of heat goes to the mine company CEO for his handling as well and his lack of crisis management but again the MSM's handling of news was not up to good standards. Sloppy journalism rears its ugly head again.

Posted 01/04/2006 02:24:22 PM

One other thing... Until something is official -- and it comes straight from the horses mouth in a presser and that person has confirmed it as such -- don't report it or stress that it is a unconfirmed report.

Posted 01/06/2006 04:41:15 AM

Puck, Only if you think you are perfect can you so easily assume you would have done better than Mr. Hatfield. It is not as if they were sitting idle dicussing all options, they were attempting to save these men. Ben said in hindsight, he would have personally delivered the news. I believe him when he says he sent word of the confusion. I also know for a fact he is devastated by what has happened. These men were his family. He is a loving man and a christian. Coal mines are a way of life. More people die driving trucks than die in mines. more police die every year. It is a tragedy what happened. Mr. hatfield is my family. my brother in law. Puck,You are the dick. socialsm?? Please GO for it. Move to a socialist country. NOW

Posted 01/06/2006 04:58:51 AM

I apologize Puck. You were not the one that called Ben Hatfield that name. I guess when you don't personally know these people it is easy to demonize them. Ben went through what the families went through. HELL. My prayers are with them all. Again , I apologize for losing my temper. P.S. Socialism is NOT the answer!

ping: gigglechick in the news again -->
Posted 01/11/2006 08:49:10 PM

well, gigglechick.com is in the news again. this time in the Philadelphia Inquirer's blinq at philly.com...

ping: gigglechick in the news again -->
Posted 01/10/2006 12:28:14 PM

well, gigglechick.com is in the news again. this time in the Philadelphia Inquirer's blinq at philly.com it's a write-up about the mining accident... and my post i wrote when i...

ping: In Roads that Never Saw Sun nor Sky -->
Posted 01/04/2006 11:07:21 AM

As most of you probably know, initial reports said that 12 of the 13 miners trapped in the West Virginia coal mine were found alive. Sadly, as most of you also know, that was not the case, and only one of the miners actually survived. Now, I unders...